Interviews with the major Class 8 truck manufacturers find that most think orders should remain strong for the balance of 2004 and into 2005 after a slight slowdown this summer, with most fleets buying trucks to replace aging equipment rather than add capacity.

“What’s driving this increase in Class 8 orders this year is freight – volumes are up and that makes it easier for fleets to both expand and replace equipment,” Bruce Ewald, assistant GM for Peterbilt Motors Company, told Fleet Owner.

“Orders have been super strong across the board, though no particular configuration has dominated, and remain strong for the rest of this year,” added Tom Kelly, vp-marketing for Mack Trucks. “We also look to 2005 to be as strong as 2004.”

“Class 8 orders remain strong as fleets continue to replace older equipment,” said Steve Gilligan, general marketing manager for Kenworth Truck Co. “While we don’t typically offer forecasts on the market, we do believe that the truckload carrier segment will remain strong. All the market indicators are favorable.”

Demand has remained so strong that Freightliner LLC is adding a third shift and 593 new full-time jobs at the company’s Cleveland, N.C.-based truck manufacturing plant. “The North American heavy-duty truck market continues its vigorous recovery and we have a positive outlook for further improvement,” said Rainer Schmueckle, Freightliner’s president and CEO. “We are experiencing strong demand across our Class 8 product line and especially in the over-the-road segment.”

Daniel Ustian, Navistar International’s chairman, president and CEO, said the upsurge in new truck orders should continue through the balance of this year.

“Recovery in the heavy truck sector is spread across our whole customer base and indications are that current demand levels for heavy trucks will continue,” he explained. “While some of the orders that have pushed the market in recent months are for delivery beyond our current fiscal year, the recent increase in industry production is a positive sign that customers are taking deliveries now to replace vehicles and are looking to expand their fleets.”

“Customers are still looking to buy large numbers of trucks,” said Scott Kress, senior vp-sales & marketing for Volvo Trucks North America. “[But] truck demand has shifted from ASAP orders from customers who wanted their trucks as quickly as possible, to the current situation, where customers are starting the order process for their 2005 trucks, especially publicly-held fleets with established capital expense budgets.”

He added that, as of mid-July, Volvo has seen orders slow down, but that it’s “relative” as overall demand remains high by historic measures.

“Volvo expects orders to pick up strongly again later in the third quarter, continuing at a high level through the end of the year and well into 2005,” Kress said.

Kress also noted demand has been consistent from TL and LTL fleets, with growing order and price quote activity from regional and small fleets -- mainly replacement demand, but with some customers starting to add capacity to their fleets. “Owner operators are also beginning to enter the market,” he said.